How a Cereal Box Can Set You Free

I receive daily requests for new costumes* and due to the volume of ideas and the high turnover of identities that my kids want to inhabit, I regularly suggest we make masks. I knew that The Carnevale, which is currently taking place in Venice, Italy, would spark their imaginations. Venice Masquerade Carnival Child Activity Free Recycle Upcycle Fun Easy Mask Make

(As a sad sort of aside: we were very struck by the death of David Bowie a fortnight ago, and while we played his music loudly and watched Labyrinth many times in the days following, it is his influence as a theatrical, costumed, fluid character that has the most impact in our house. This article about the history of masks in Venice talks about the freedom from social restrictions that they provided to Venetians and obviously Bowie also well understood this power of a “mask”. The ability to change your appearance at will is very appealing to my four-year-olds, perhaps as part of forming their own identities, and so for a day or two after Bowie died they became Ziggy Stardust).

David Bowie Death Children Ziggy Stardust Hero

When it comes to the masquerade in Venice, the children were familiar with this poem that I learned at school and can recite very quickly like a tongue-twister for laughs. We recalled the fact that Venice has water instead of roads, which is fascinating, of course, and difficult to get your head around when you first learn of it!

Venezia Venice Italy Mask Children Activity Travel at Home

We looked at many photographs of traditional masks and characters from Commedia Del’Arte and naturally the creepiest ones were the favourites. We created Brighella the villain in dastardly yellow (his ugly wrinkles have been painted over but nevermind).

Venice Carnival Carnevale Mask Brighella Commedia Del Arte

The other mask has a beak-like nose that resembles the costumes of the “Medico Della Peste” or Plague Doctors that filled their pointy masks wish sweet-smelling herbs to avoid breathing in the deadly vapours of their patients. I spent much of the afternoon pretending to be afraid and shocked when the pointy nose of this mask revealed itself around corners before its cackling owner.

Venice Carnevale Medico Della Peste Mask

(A basic template for how to make this mask, which was so satisfying to make and wear, can be seen below. We make most of our masks from cereal or muesli bar boxes).

Venice Carnival Carnevale Kids Activity Make Masks Upcycle Free Many Cha Cha

Whether the children are taking on new identities for a masquerade on the other side of the world or emulating a beloved pop hero, the lesson is clear: be whoever you want to be.

*”Mum, can you make me a costume? I wanna be Puss in Boots. No, no, no, The Hulk. Or Iron Man. Actually, an ogre… make it Shrek. Or how about a baddy from Star Wars! Yeah, yeah, a Storm Trooper. Definitely a dragon. A Leopard or a pelican or a meerkat. A Gorilla! I love gorillas! A knight. For sure this time. Yes, I wanna be a knight. Why are you taking so long to make my costume, mum?”

Venice Venezia Carnival Masquerade Plague Doctor Dottore

Advertisements

So Many Cherries Take You So Many Places

Cherries Cherry Recipes Traditional Travel at Home

It is cherry season and we are swamped with little, red flavour-bombs. Nobody here is complaining, although I do have to regularly check the carpet for spit out pips.

Cherry Tree Cherries Rosella Australian Bird

First, we discovered that one of the lovely blossom-trees that we can see from our sitting room window was bursting with cherries. It was the birds that alerted us, because the branches are a bit too high for easy picking.

Cherry Picking Children Learn Home Family Cherries Garden

Over a few days, we observed blackbirds and then rosellas having feathery feasts, and realised that if we waited another minute we would miss out, so we devised a system to gather some for ourselves.

Cherry Picking Season Summer Cherries Children Home Made

I climbed a ladder and bent a branch down to the children below, who happily grasped the tart fruit and collected them in a basket. There was no danger of the birds missing out; we simply couldn’t reach many.

Cherry Picking Slow Living Home Made Recipe Cherries Kids

Our cherries were not quite ripe and very sour so I bought a huge punnet from the green-grocer because we wanted to munch on the sweet stuff.

Cherry Recipes World Tree Picking Season

A few days later, family visiting from interstate chose to go cherry-picking as a day out together. This was a full-blown operation, involving buckets and scales. We laughed about how we would pay for the cherries; at first my little guys assumed the orchard-owners would count the cherries to determine the price.

Cherry Picking Vishnnyovka Children Farm Orchard Cherries 1

So now my kitchen is overflowing with these juicy treasures! I left the ones from our garden out to ripen for a few days and investigated some recipe ideas. Cherries feature in the traditional cuisine of many cultures, notably in Central and Eastern Europe, and there are lovely recipes online including some for the Romanian Cherry Brandy called Vişinată or a similar Russian version called Vishnnyovka. There are also great blog posts showing how to make Polish Cherry Cake or the famous German Black Forest Cake.

Chery Traditional Vishnnyovka Sugar Jar Home Made Recipe

Many of the recipes have ties to the holidays that happen at this time of year, even though our seasons do not coincide: that’s because often they require the addition of cherries that have been allowed to ferment or “pickle” in brandy or vodka for about six months before being used in Christmas or Chanukah recipes.

Home Made Cherry Visinata Vishniak Season Jar

Most of our cherries are disappearing as snacks but in addition to the sour home-grown ones that I am trying to ferment in a jar of sugar, I attempted my own version of a tart with a nutty-crumble topping. I happened to have walnuts in the shell from the farmers market, so I roughly ground those and added some for texture. I relied mostly on the cherries themselves for sweetness. Serve it with cream or maybe some quark, this tart is yummy and satisfying.

Cherry Crumble Pie Recipe Fresh Tart Whole Foods

Here is what I did:

 

Cherry Nut-Crumble Tart

 

500g cherries (about 2.5 cups), measured and then pitted

1 or 2 sheets of short crust pastry from the freezer

 

For the crumble topping:

1/2 cup freshly crushed walnuts

3/4 cup of almond and quinoa meal

1 cup of wholemeal flour

1/2 cup of brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature

1TB Golden syup or honey

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Stir the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and honey, then combine until you have a crumbly mixture (I used my hands). Grease a tart pan and line it with the pastry. I needed the second sheet of pastry because one was not big enough. Spread the pitted cherries around the bottom of the pastry, then press the nutty crumble mixture in around and over the cherries, leaving some peeking through to look delicious. We used the rest of the second sheet of pastry to cut some heart decorations for the top of the tart. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve with something creamy.

Cherry Pie Crumble Tart Seasonal Baking Recipe Wholemeal

Travel on the Page: “La Vie Est Belle” by Henrietta Heald

La Vie Est Belle Henrietta Heald Travel at Home

Books have the magical power to transport us almost anywhere and while it goes without saying that words are vehicles for the imagination, beautiful photographs can give our hearts a lift too. In particular, I adore cook books written about regional cuisines because they often contain more than just pictures of food on a plate.

Certainly, I should be learning a few culinary skills from these books, but I am most often guilty of just browsing and dreaming of eating in faraway places. A book that doesn’t focus entirely on the food, but explores various ways of experiencing another culture — including its cuisine — seems like a fantastic idea to me.

A lovely book by Henrietta Heald, La Vie Est Belle, does just that. Filled with photographs of light-washed farms, Parisian pied-à-terres, and country “brocante” stalls, the book reinforces a Francophile’s dreams while providing recipes, stories and travel tips. With information about traditions and insights into French culture and habits, La Vie Est Belle is a travel-at-home experience to keep on your bookshelf.

The mouth-watering photograps of ‘tarte tatin’ in the pages inspired me to make a cheat’s version of this classic French dessert. (By the way, did you know that you can still stay or eat at the Hotel Tatin where the famous upside-down cake was accidentally created in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters?)

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Cheats La Vie Est Belle Travel

I simply peeled and sliced some apples, then cooked them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar until the whole lot caramelised in the most delectable and fragrant way. I spooned this mixture into some pre-prepared (read: shop-bought) pastry that I had placed into small metal baking dishes then baked the tarts for about 20 minutes. Note: if you try this you should definitely learn from my mistake and line the dishes with baking paper; the whole thing becomes very sticky.

So easy and utterly delicious. Probably scandalous.

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Recipe Many Cha Cha Travel at Home

The Day My Kids Became Free-Rein Pharaohs

Pharaoh Mask Egyptian Ancient Craft Children Kindergarten

My children are fascinated with the imagery of ancient Egypt, and one afternoon they asked if they could be Pharaohs. They seemed a bit surprised when I responded with a bright “yes!” and immediately set them to work making masks.

We started with an image search, an activity which has become a regular starting point when we have questions about the world. It was great to gain some shape and colour inspiration, but I didn’t see any need to provide complicated explanations about mummification or ancient history. Pharaohs are the “kings” of the pyramids in Egypt and that’s enough for three-year-olds, I think.

Pharaoh Mask Craft World Kids Activity Travel at Home

Our supplies for the project were: stiff white cardboard saved from a box (because I am that kind of hoarder), poster paint, gold glitter glue and some hat elastic. Each child had his own requirements for his mask: one wanted peep-eyes only and the other wanted his whole face to show. I drew and cut out the mask outlines, we mixed some appropriate colours and then the kids had free rein to design their mask however they liked.

Pharoah Mask Children Craft Paint Activity Egypt Learn World

This project provided an example of why it is best to let go of control. It would have been easy for me to try and dictate how a pharaoh should look, particularly when one of the boys basically painted his mask black. I was itching to tell him to do this and add that… but once the paint was dry and he added the gold glitter glue, his mask looked incredible and I was so glad I held my tongue. He was also pretty proud of it.

The other kid often spends more time mixing colours, for the fun of the experiment, than he does painting. In this case, he ended up with gorgeous turquoisey-teals that were entirely in keeping with the colours of a jewel-encrusted sarcophagus.

Pharoah Mask Egyptian Culture Craft Children Kindergarten

This was a quick and easy activity but it provided heaps of fuel for conversations, and the outcomes were clearly satisfying for the kids because they achieved something lovely on their own terms.

Pharaoh Mask Ancient Egypt Kids Child Craft Culture Activity